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Review: "Ready Player One"

by Chris Feil

The pairing of godfather of contemporary pop culture Steven Spielberg with a film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s reference heavy Ready Player One sounds like one that would fit like a glove. Cline’s novel has great reverence for the Spielberg canon, not to mention a wide-ranging affection for video games, cinema, and general geekery that is greatly indebted to him as one of our greatest storytellers. The chance for the legend to riff on the likes of John Hughes and Robert Zemeckis already carries a bit of whimsy, an acknowledgement of the type of now omnipresent fan culture that he laid the groundwork for. Don’t forget Spielberg was the original movie nerd, and the opportunity to play with some of his own inspirations like King Kong should naturally allow him to approach the material with necessary affection.

But this perfectly-fit glove turns out to be an inside-out rubber one that’s spent the day scrubbing an ancient multiplex floor, and it’s our hands that end up covered in junk...

The film stars Tye Sheridan as the orphan Wade Watts, one of countless global citizens that cope with a collapsed real world by escaping to a virtual one: The Oasis. The brainchild of James Halliday (played by the kookiest Mark Rylance you can imagine), The Oasis is a wide-open virtual-reality-slash-online-community where the limits are only set by the players imagination and cultural references. It’s like living a video game or your favorite blockbuster on group chat.

But Wade enjoys the escape and anonymity of The Oasis long after Halliday’s death, the genius having developed a mythic status of near religious proportions. Halliday left his followers with a mission to find three hidden keys that unlock a legendary Easter Egg and with it control of The Oasis. After decades, Wade is the first to crack the mystery and races the clock to protect the online haven from a dastardly corporation led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

And all of that is the very surface of detailing the hows of this over-complicated world, which the film is forced to explain the mechanics of well into the tail end of its bloated running time. Ready Player One can’t escape the labors of both clunkily explaining things we already understand with its references but also confusing us further with its own logic. There’s reams of dialogue lifted from wiki pages and plot turns that read like verbalized Ikea instructions. At its best, the film is the dullest version of its pop culture conversations and at its worst, it’s a narrative disaster.

It’s disheartening that the film becomes a poster child for the cliched accusations of thin characterization and soulless bombast that this kind of entertainment faces, and squarely because it comes from one of our most skilled populist filmmakers. What gets most lost in the film’s endless stream of references and plot machinations is Spielberg’s voice. Even his biggest missteps (get ready for plenty of Hook comparisons) have benefited from his signature, but this one is a glaring standout as one of his worst because it doesn’t even feel like his.

The closest the film comes to a point of view is its lukewarm attempts at subversively undermining the fan culture it’s luring. The film underlines the dissociative effects of entertainment cultdom is the most obvious terms, and inadvertently dampens what little joy it revels in its own pop culture fantasia. The film and The Oasis become one oversized metaphor on how hard it is for shy guys to kiss girls and stuff, and embodies the very myopia of not seeing women as complete, complex beings beyond the adoration directed at them. Yep, Ready Player One has an issue with how it minimizes its female characters, and the bright talents of Lena Waithe, Olivia Cooke, and Hannah John-Kamen go wasted.

Perhaps material this unwieldy is too much for even one of our greats to wrangle as is. In packing the frame with as many visual cues as possible when it already suffers from too many pixels, the film is both every idea and no idea at once, like having a nightmare while in a coma. It’s an adventure without character arc, energy without excitement, fandom without palpable affection.

Grade: D+

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Reader Comments (7)

Did we watch the same movie?

This review sounds like it's from someone who has never experienced any of the source material the story came from. The book is superior to the movie, but the movie is still good.

The females of the movie are the most important characters in the movie. Parzival would never have been able to finish without them. Just because they aren't the lead character didn't mean they were marginalized. That kind of thinking is how the horrible Ghostbusters bomb was made.

The movie isn't perfect, but it wasn't too long. It definitely wasn't bloated. I would give it around a B. Your review would get an F.

March 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDevoidz

Great review, Chris! I've been apprehensive about this one for a lot of the reasons you've gotten into here, but I guess it's Spielberg, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt (although that Hook reference makes me even more skittish).

March 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMat

This movie receives a different score/grade in every movie site I visit. LOL.

March 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

I had an absolute blast at this movie. Sure there is a ton of fan service, but that’s very expected in a film like this.

March 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I absolutely hated it. I hated the look of the two main Avatars, I thought the script was anemic - far too much exposition, the whole call to arms was ridiculous and I couldn't deal with the damsel in distress.

The orchestral soundtrack was overbearing and the whole thing read like Indiana Jones Template.

The messaging was 100% corporate rubbish.

The acting was cringe-worthy.

It was awful. Absolutely. AI is in a different class altogether.

April 2, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterkreemer

Not good. How did Spielberg miss an opportunity to make a tough commentary on what is going on in our world today. The absolute shithole that was daily life in the future wasn't even presented as a bad thing. That ending is absurd. The dialogue was ridiculous. Very disappointing.

April 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I loved the book...Steven Spielberg fucked up the story so bad I'm disgusted. The movie is okay, but it's not Ready Player One.

May 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterUgly druids

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